Passengers stuck on PBIA's tarmac for five hours

By Lindsay Cohen

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX) - More than 100 passengers were stuck on the tarmac at Palm Beach International Airport Tuesday afternoon as airlines officials tried to sort out the travelers' status with federal customs agents and handle mechanical issues.

American Airlines flight 944 left Honduras for Miami around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, but, instead of landing at its intended destination, the flight was diverted to Palm Beach because of stormy weather airlines officials said.

But the headaches didn't end there.

A mechanical problem kept the plane from taking off again. Passengers were not allowed to deplane because the flight was an international flight, and they would somehow have to clear customs first according to officials with American Airlines.

"We in no way held those people on the plane," said Jose Castellano with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. "American Airlines was given the option of either [the passengers] being processed in West Palm Beach or, if they could get another jet there, transferring the people directly."

American Airlines issued the following statement, saying that: "For the airline to take the passengers off the plane, send them through customs, then put them back on the plane, and have to do it all over again in Miami doesn't much sense."

So, instead, passengers sat for nearly five hours on the tarmac.

The plane was eventually fixed, and the passengers were flown to Miami where they landed around 7 p.m.

"Obviously, you know, the weather had a lot to do with it," said Ingrid Stewart, as she picked up her luggage at Miami International Airport. "But, I think, American Airlines left a lot to be desired."

Travelers at PBIA weren't surprised to hear of yet another nightmare with airline customer service at a three-year low.

"The people that were on there, it's not their fault, so they shouldn't have had to go through that," said Jennifer Oliveira, who was waiting to pick up passengers at the airport. "They should have let them off the plane. Even if they couldn't go anywhere, they should have been able to get off the plane and, you know, use the restrooms or eat or do whatever they needed to do."

"They're probably hot, as hot as it's been in Florida lately," said Judy Crose, who was waiting to fly back to Oklahoma. "They're probably ready to get off. Hopefully, they can get a little better service and take care of them sooner and a lot quicker than they did."